Some aggrieved APC members have taken issue with what they consider the slow pace of activities since the caretaker committee assumed office on June 25. In fact, some of them have alleged that this is part of a larger plot to extend the committee’s tenure beyond six months. What is the true situation?
Every member of our party has a right like every other citizen to hold and express an opinion; it is a legitimate right. However, when people speak, it will help when it is based on facts. The important thing is that when the six months tenure was given to us by the National Executive Committee, it did not take into account or envisage that the enormous crisis in the party would take us time. It is not a matter of one day. For instance, when we took over, we went round the country to meet our leaders and explain things to them. After the former National Working Committee was removed, the party brought us from all over Nigeria. But, because you cannot play politics (especially in APC), without reaching out to (Asiwaju Ahmed) Tinubu and Baba (Bisi) Akande, we went and explained things to them. That was the first thing we did. We inherited a crisis that was caused by the former NWC. We had a crisis in Edo and we had to set up a committee headed by a former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, to reconcile everybody so that they could work for the party to win. We had a situation where our state party chairman accused other party members of working for the opposition party. We started reconciliation before we went for the campaigns and the elections. How many months did that take? We went on to conduct primaries for Ondo and it took a lot. Other aspirants were against the governor, we had to bring them on board so that we could win, this took time. We set up the reconciliation committee headed by the Governor of Niger State, Sani Bello. When we came back, we had to organise primaries to produce candidates to stand for elections to replace senators, members of the House of Representatives and those in State Assemblies who died and those that were removed by courts. When we finished; because of COVID-19 protocols, we could not gather. Even with that, we took up the challenge to go ahead to beat time; we did all that in preparation that the Independent National Electoral Commission would hold elections. Then, the weekend the elections were supposed to hold, #EndSARS came and you are a living witness that you cannot play politics under that kind of atmosphere, even INEC had to postpone the elections while a new date had been fixed and then somebody is coming to say you cannot do this.
Is the committee seeking an extension of its tenure considering the fact that we are less than two months away from the end of the initial six months?
We don’t have the power to extend our stay. As I said, almost all of us in the committee are very busy people; our chairman is a serving governor, there are also other senior members of the committee who are also serving governors. I am a businessman.
There is also this issue of a fresh registration of party members. Some have said it was not part of the initial mandate given to your committee. How do you respond?
A set of people have said, ah, we don’t want you to come and conduct a fresh membership registration exercise. Why are they afraid? For those who are saying we should not go ahead with the registration-don’t believe me, go to your APC ward chairman and ask him, do you have the register of members in your house, let him give you if he has one. Simple politics! I am a development expert, what is development? Simply put, it is a process that creates growth, progress, positive change or the addition of physical, economic, environmental, social and demographic components or put in another way, it is bringing new technology to update the old for productivity. Somebody like me will always want to see growth and progress. What we want to do is to complement what was done before. We want to have a proper register of members and have a database, to see those who have left, those who have come in, to see our additions and subtractions. We want a situation where, when you go to the villages and ask the ward chairman, he/she can give you a register of party members in his ward. The ward will have records of whether or not a member still comes for meetings and participates in party activities and if he is a financially up to date member. The party will like to know whether you pay the N100 membership dues or not. Above all, we want to return the party to Nigerians so that they can have a say in its running. They can say, I am in this ward and I contributed, this way they can hold the government accountable. So, we are building the party from bottom up. Another example is that, if you remember, there was a case, the former party secretary that was appointed, somebody went to court and the court read a part of our constitution and ruled. If you are going for a convention, are you not going to elect delegates to attend the convention? And in a state where you have parallel exco, like we currently have in some states, who do you elect? You don’t open yourself to your enemy to punch you and push you because once there is a loophole, the enemies will pounce on you. They will go to court and you may have a situation where you don’t have a presidential candidate; is that what some people want? Do such people want to throw the party into chaos because of sentiments? We are just a caretaker committee; members own this party from the President down to the last man. With what we are doing, it will be difficult for any individual or group to hijack the party. When we finish what we are doing, we will present our timetable to those who also gave us the assignment in the first place. It is left for them to agree or disagree. The people who are thinking otherwise have a say, that is their opinion.There are people who like what we are doing. There are those who don’t like what we are doing as well. Your rights stop when you start to destroy the party. Then we will use the power of the party against you. If for instance, you carry thugs to the party secretariat, the police will intervene and you will run into trouble. But if you have an opinion and you express it in a civil manner, there’s no problem about that. That is democracy.
How well is the reconciliation in the party going on?
Very well, we are making appreciable progress. You can see how we have successfully brought back the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
Also, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, and his counterpart who is the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, also sat down and agreed to work together for the party.
In my home state, Akwa Ibom, for example; we are all on the same page as members of the APC. Incidentally, most of those who had refused to obey the plea by the National Executive Committee and the President, withdrew cases in court, like in Ekiti and Zamfara states. Some of them lost and they are saying come and reconcile us but when we pleaded with them, they didn’t listen but in politics you accommodate people and find ways to bring people together; the party needs its members just like members need the party.
There are speculations that the crisis in the party is borne out of a power struggle between those who want to control the party machinery at all levels preparatory to the 2023 general elections. How true is this?
This is normal in politics. Don’t allow anybody to tell you such things are abnormal in politics, they are normal. Let me give you a typical example. In 2014, Buhari had no money, but most aspirants were jostling for the presidential ticket of our party. I don’t want to mention names, most of them were said to have paid delegates several amounts of money to get the nomination. Buhari didn’t have and he even told everybody on the convention ground that even if he had money, he would not give for that sort of thing. The people knew what they wanted. At the end of the day, who won? The important thing is the decision of the people. You can wish to control the party. Okay, if you want to talk about control, show me one governor that installed a successor that they are not fighting today. If you are being used to try to get the party structure, they are just using you.
We will do the right thing. For this registration exercise, if anybody thinks that by taking and hoarding membership cards he can succeed, such a person will be mistaken because we will make cards available for all our members.
We have enough cards for every member. We will also send credible people to each state other than their states so that our members everywhere will be treated fairly. We will rebrand, reposition and strengthen our party. I was privileged to be a member of the constitution drafting committee during the merger. I understand the issues.
Some Nigerians say the APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party are two sides of the same coin. Is this a true reflection of the situation and what are those things that the APC considers as the failures of the PDP which you intend to correct?
When you bring together strange bedfellows, it takes time for them to internalise the principles of progressiveness. We want a situation where our party will move from, “I came from this or that party which came together to form the APC”. We want to build one APC. We have opened our doors to a lot of people to come into the party. What we will do differently which the President is also doing but many Nigerians don’t understand is that he is reaching out to Nigerians, not only members of the party. Most of this administration’s programmes are targeted at the masses and not so many party members are happy because of a reward system Nigerians are already used to. The President is using the strategy used by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. During his time in the South-West, Awolowo used free education to liberate the South-West. It didn’t matter if you were an Igbo man or Akwa Ibom man. If you lived in the West at the time, you benefitted. I benefited from the free education offered by the Western Regional Government during Awolowo’s time. The President’s programmes are targeted at Nigerians irrespective of party. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know that opposition party governors especially those in the PDP take undue advantage of this. When items like rice are sent to opposition states, they rebrand them and claim ownership. There is no government since 1999 that has invested so much on social programmes like the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration. Regretably, these acts of sabotage by our opponents have robbed us of credit due to his administration. I just came back from Uyo, my state capital, and people were asking me what the Federal Government was doing about the Calabar-Itu road. The work is enormous but the global economy is affecting this administration.
Some individuals especially within the APC have expressed the view that the #EndSARS protest was targeted at regime change. Is this the case?
Look at it this way; Daddy Freeze expressed an opinion which was against a position taken by Bishop (David) Oyedepo on an issue. If you remember, two big pastors, one in Rivers, one here in Abuja, went mad and put aside the fact that they are pastors and threatened to tear Daddy Freeze to pieces. What do you think about those who feel so passionate about President Buhari who has over 12 million followers? You have to be careful what you wish for. If pastors can forget Biblical principles and tell Daddy Freeze, ‘I will eat you alive,’ how much more the president of Nigeria? You can’t take power from the back door. You did not vote for him and now you want to take power from him. There were those who infiltrated the protests and started asking the government to resign, was that also #EndSARS? Others went round destroying private businesses and public property, was that also #EndSARS? You cannot take the template of the 1966 coup to pit the North against the South. For the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeoisie, there must be total consciousness among all sections. This is not to distract from the agitations of young Nigerians who started the demonstration peacefully to draw attention to their sufferings at the hands of SARS, before the protest was hijacked. This administration has been strangled by the global economic recession and the fall in oil price and COVID-19. Every administration across the world is trying to breath. Our detractors are too far removed to understand what is happening. During the last administration, one day I met a minister who asked me if I knew the government was borrowing money to pay salaries, I was shocked. You know, the people that understand President Buhari are members of the international community. That is why he is very respected outside Nigeria. I am not saying there are no mistakes here and there; I am not even speaking on his behalf. Are the demands of the #EndSARS protesters legitimate? Of course, they are legitimate. But what about the manner of approach? Look at it, a man who attained the rank of a Major General in the Nigerian Army, a man who is a sitting president, you said End SARS, he ended SARS, and you don’t even see that. Normally, the president would not even have allowed you to dictate the pace when such things happen. It is the right of every citizen to demand for services and better condition of living but it should be done peacefully.